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Children's reactions to divorce may depend on age

As you move toward divorce, you turn your attention to the kids. You have read about how hard divorce can be on children, and you'd like to shield them from that.

This mindset carries over into the divorce itself. You resolve to work with your ex to come up with a parenting plan that really puts the children first. You put their needs ahead of your own. However, you also realize that this process needs to start before you even officially split up. It needs to begin in the home, as you move closer to the end of your marriage.

To do so, it is important to know how kids react to divorce and what they understand about it. Much of that has to do with their age.

Newborns and children under one

For the youngest children, the key is always routine. They find it comforting. They want to know what to expect, whom to expect and when to expect them. Divorce tends to destroy daily routines pretty quickly, so make sure to keep things as constant as possible for the kids.

Toddlers

When children are under 3 but certainly no longer babies, they have a generally self-centered worldview. As a parent, you have no doubt seen this manifest itself in a lot of different ways. Remember that it may, for kids of this age, mean that they see the divorce as their own fault. They blame themselves. They feel angry about changes in their lives. You need to reassure them and counter some of these fears.

Children in grade school

Kids who are going to school, but who aren't yet in high school, often worry about abandonment. They feel like their parents are walking out on them. They also often have a compulsion to try to prevent it, perhaps by working to make you and your ex get back together. Be compassionate, but make sure you do not lead them on in any sense. Help them adjust and understand that you're not abandoning them.

High school students

High school students have started to value their own lives. They care about their schools, their friends, their social groups. They may have romantic relationships. In some ways, this can cause them to act as selfishly as young children. Topics they care about most -- staying in the same school or staying near friends and significant others -- may not matter as much to adults. Make sure you talk to them, learn how they're feeling and take steps not to upset their lives.

The process

These general guidelines can help you make divorce go well for your kids. Make sure you understand all of your legal options during this process.

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